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UNHCR awards 2009 Nansen Refugee prize to Senator Edward Kennedy

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UNHCR awards 2009 Nansen Refugee prize to Senator Edward Kennedy

15 September 2009

GENEVA, September 15 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency announced Tuesday that its Nansen Refugee Award will go to the late Senator Edward Kennedy for his achievements as an unparalleled champion of refugee protection and assistance for more than 45 years.

Senator Kennedy's work in establishing US refugee admissions, resettlement, and asylum programs directly helped millions of persecuted individuals to find protection and start new lives in the United States. He was the chief sponsor of more than 70 refugee related measures and was instrumental in codifying international refugee obligations into US law.

In announcing the Nansen award, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: "Senator Kennedy stood out as a forceful advocate for those who suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights. Year after year, conflict after conflict, he put the plight of refugees on the agenda and drove through policies that saved and shaped countless lives."

From his election in 1962, Senator Kennedy adopted a comprehensive approach in his fight for refugee protection. He effectively utilized his influence in the United States Congress to advance refugee and asylum-related legislation and to raise awareness of refugee crises.

Senator Kennedy met with governments at the highest levels, encouraging them to welcome refugees seeking protection in their territories. His work helped to raise public awareness of the challenges refugees face around the world. He also regularly met with refugees themselves, visiting refugee settings around the globe as well as in local US communities. Throughout, he demonstrated a level of compassion and empathy for individual refugees and their communities unrivalled in the US Congress.

Senator Kennedy's interest in refugee protection did not stop at the US border - he was the voice and the hope of persecuted and uprooted individuals worldwide. He brought attention to refugee crises in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Most recently, he played a critical role in drawing attention to the needs of Iraqi refugees.

UNHCR is grateful it was able to inform Senator Kennedy of the Nansen Committee's decision in June, and deeply saddened by his passing.

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist and the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organisation for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The Nansen award consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. The winner can donate it to a cause of his or her choice.

The Nansen Award Ceremony will take place on 28 October 2009 in Washington, USA